This is the list that represents the turning point in my cancer experience….
GIFT – My relationship with my husband.
When you’re been married for two decades, you know life and marriage are about getting through stuff. Our relationship weathered this storm with amazing tenacity. Because it wasn’t always easy, but the bond never broke and the love was always there. There is no greater gift than to realize that you never have to doubt – it’s the surest thing in my life and that’s all that matters.
LOSS – But there are still moments of difficulty.
It’s hard to be patient and understanding of someone else’s pain when you’re experiencing so much of your own. It’ also extremely difficult to “do this” to him and my children. I’m the wife and mother, the one who looks out for everyone else’s emotional needs – I don’t like being the one who needs all the support and nurturing. I feel guilty for needing what I need.
GIFT – My relationship with my body.
I got a flat tummy and two “lifted” breasts, which look better in clothes than they did before the surgeries.
LOSS – Who said I wanted to pay this price?
I got a flat tummy and two “lifted” breasts, which, when I look in the mirror, look like I got run over by a truck. Just because my clothes cover the scars, doesn’t mean I don’t see them every day of my life.
GIFT – Because of the incredible support I received at Overlook Hospital during my hospitalization, I want to give back.
LOSS – What could be negative about that?
GIFT – I want to do what I want and stop saying “No” to myself.
The decision to donate blood was motivated by more than just the need to give back. I also realized that I had always wanted to do it, but for some reason never made the time. I just didn’t make it a priority. So, finally doing it made me feel connected to my own life and what I wanted to do with it. Then, when I learned I had won a prize that made my husband and son so happy, it was extra validation that I was on the right path!
LOSS – Again, no down side.
But figuring out what you want out of life isn’t easy. It’s hard work and takes thinking outside the box.
GIFT – I’ve met many amazing, supportive people as a result of my hospitalization.
Sarah, Kristen, Sara, Lee Ann, Lockey and others at Overlook Hospital have held me up in a way I never expected. I have a support system which I had no idea existed the day before my mastectomy. It’s a miracle gift to find such support for both the cancer issues and other life issues.
LOSS – Some people don’t get it.
I am scared of getting cancer again in the future. I am scared to go through it all again. I had a mammogram in January this year, which was awful both due to my emotions (in reliving what I went through the first time) and because the tech was an ignorant idiot (at a different facility). Not everyone you meet is supportive and they can inflict incredible pain.
GIFT – I’m taking back control over my body.
I signed up the family at the YMCA and started working out on the machines and taking classes. Again, another thing I always wanted to do but never did. Now I ask “why not?” and go do it.
LOSS – It’s not as easy as it looks.
Okay, so I took a Pilates class. The instructor told us to lie on our backs and raise our feet off the ground. I couldn’t make my feet budge. It took all of my self-control to keep from sobbing and running out of the room. Just another thing I lost that reminded me of how my body was ravaged by cancer. Cancer stinks and it is still sneaking up on me to kick my behind.
GIFT – Keeping at it.
I’m working out and taking care of my body – I think this could lead to a sexier view of myself.
LOSS – This is going to take some time.
I am detached from my breasts, which seem artificial to me.
GIFT – The gift of introspection.
One year of oncology therapy – I couldn’t have made it through without Kristen and Sara. We worked so hard on so many issues – I feel like I was given a wonderful opportunity and I took it and ran with it. I committed to one hour a week and got so much out of our time. It’s an amazing gift to realize your own strength.
LOSS – Crying a lot is no fun.
It was really hard work, lots of emotional turmoil, upset, depression. I went through hell. But, I shudder to think what I would have gone through without the guidance and support I received.
GIFT – Date Nights!
Date nights with Michael – actually on the calendar! I probably wouldn’t have pushed it without having gone through all of this; God knows I didn’t before.
GIFT – Becoming more aware of the present moment.
Since my mastectomy, I’ve read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose twice. It’s a dense book with many concepts to ponder, but I really connected with the voice in the head which lives in the past and worries about the present.
LOSS – I still get easily overwhelmed.
I don’t know what it is, but there are days when you are just one moment away from losing it all over again. Why is that? I am still easily overwhelmed by too many decisions, or facing things where control is an issue. It’s easy to go back to that place….
GIFT – Which led to meditation.
I’m not perfect at the everyday meditation ritual. In fact, I’m pretty bad at it. But when I started the practice of meditation, I learned how to become aware of the voice in my head – if not exactly how to turn it off. Just being aware of it, however, is a huge help.
LOSS – The voice in my head.
It is so easy to drive yourself crazy worrying about doctors’ appointments, tests, every little ache and pain that may be trying to tell you something…… Once you’ve been there, you know it can happen to you again, because it already has.
GIFT – Which, with yoga, led to breathing.
Of course, yoga and mediation go hand in hand. I just didn’t know that. I was meditating when I started looking for an exercise that wouldn’t wreck me emotionally like Pilates. Then I remembered yoga and gave it a try. The focus on being where you are today and breathing put me in a calmer place, emotionally and physically. I often find myself slowing down my breath without thinking about it.
GIFT – I fell in love with yoga.
I love, love, love yoga. Again, I thought about doing it before, in some “oh, that sounds interesting” kind of way, but I didn’t make it happen. It was only after joining the Y and taking that horrible Pilates class, that I focused on my need to search for something better for me. I actually leave the house, in the evening, during good and bad weather, happy to go. That’s never happened to me before with exercise. I get misty just thinking about it.
GIFT – The gift of not grocery shopping.
Before cancer, there were certain things I did every week, which I thought no one else could do. After cancer, I rethought that, again with the help of Sara Duphiny, my therapist. I didn’t make time to write or build my decorating business before cancer, because I thought I had to do all the domestic stuff first. Monday was grocery shopping and all around domestic goddess day. Sara challenged that, “Why can’t you go shopping on the weekends?” Now, my husband and I go together (after stopping for breakfast), or he runs out without me. When we can’t get to it on the weekend, I still go on Monday, but I don’t mind, because it’s working.
Same issue. Sara said, “Aren’t your kids old enough to help?” Why, yes they are! So, now they do – not a lot of course, but we’re working on it. The real gift is learning to ask for help.
Between my two surgeries, I asked my plastic surgeon what we were going for here. I asked because I just couldn’t see it; all I saw was a mess. He told me I would look better than I did before, which only served to piss me off. I didn’t want better, I wanted my old body back. Now I appreciate what he meant. Between the surgeries and exercise my body image has never been better. That I can now enjoy that, rather than feeling resentment for what it cost me, is a huge gift.
LOSS – Let’s be honest here…..
There are still times when I look in the mirror and go back to the horror of all I went through. It’s hard to totally forget when you can still see the scars. But it’s easier now to talk myself away from the ledge, like don’t even get up there…. And the exercise gives me this amazing feeling of control, which cancer and plastic surgery, by the way, took from me.
One day, Sarah Mandel and I were talking and she told me that she saw a need for a book to hand out to mothers to help their children understand DCIS. I told her I could probably help her with that. Over two afternoons, I wrote the copy for a rhyming children’s book. I had puttered around with kids’ poetry before (for my children), but I had no idea I could do it so well. We’re now in the process of trying to get it published. Who knew saying yes to my creativity and not letting fear stop you could feel so darn good?
GIFT – Where We Go Now.
The idea for a online community and blog for people living life after cancer came to me while lying on my yoga mat. Cool, huh? I always wanted to write, but couldn’t find my voice. Once you learn to say yes, it’s amazing how much stuff presents itself to you and all you have to do is run with it.
It was only as I thought about what I wanted to say as the survivor speaker at the Overlook Hospital Reception to Honor Survivors that I realized I left a major gift off my list. Surprisingly, it was the first and most important gift of cancer, as it gave birth to all the other gifts. That gift was the gift of gratitude. Without gratitude, I wouldn’t have healed emotionally and found purpose. Gratitude also pushed back fear as the primary emotion of my every waking moment. It was due to gratitude that I viewed my survivorship as a positive, and not as a sentence from which I could not recover.
I still struggle with the concept of being grateful for cancer because no one wants to think of it as a “good” thing. But if cancer is part of life, then, like anything else we experience, it can’t be all good or all bad. It just is. And the challenge is learning how to accept that.